How a cross-section of New Zealand educators shared insights and strategies for optimising the positive learning benefits of digital learning developments while minimising harmful effects. This article first appeared in Education Central on 30 July 2019.
The 50th anniversary of the Moonwalk reminds us that Apollo 11’s inboard computing power for the amazing return journey was less than we each carry in our smart phones.
Real lunar crusaders in 1969 were followed a decade later by fictitious galactic raiders like Darth Vader and addictive arcade games such as Space Invaders.
The portable touchscreen device, hardly a teenager, denotes another chapter in an interwoven science fact and fiction narrative. It is a double-edged lightsabre.
Educators from across the learning spectrum and around New Zealand met at the thirteenth annual Education Leaders Forum: Digital Divides, Dividends & Dangers in Dunedin on 17 & 18 July to grapple with digital issues and opportunities. The focus was on strategies for bridging digital divides, unlocking digital dividends and avoiding digital dangers.
ELF19, the 13th in an annual series, was run by SmartNet and hosted by principal sponsor Otago Polytechnic. Te Kura was a sponsor and supporters were Enterprise Dunedin (DCC) and the Ministry of Education.
The forum was timely because of digital developments and topical concerns which have dramatically altered the online environment.
In response the Ministry of Education has revised and strengthened the National Curriculum to include Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko learning, effective 2020. Whatever pathway they choose to take, children and young people will be equipped with the necessary digital skills to take part and thrive in a fast-evolving connected world.
After several billion years the last few human centuries have introduced into the equation of Planet Earth’s evolution an exponential factor- technology. Digital and other technologies have transformed the way we learn, work and take time out.
Advances in Artificial Intelligence and engineering mean science fiction is now science fact. Drones, electric cars, 3d printing, hover boards, augmented and virtual reality are fast becoming our collective reality. Netflix recommends the movies we view and Spotify organises the personalised sound track of our lives.
Educators feel the depth of digital challenges. They can either be overwhelmed by them and opt out or share and implement strategies to cope.
Democratisation of Learning
Phil Ker, CEO of Otago Polytechnic opened ELF19 with a keynote on Integrating Learning and Work in the Digital Age. Information technology has led to a democratisation of learning. “The digital transformation of life enables individuals to play a bigger role in their own learning and careers, in partnership with educators, who have an important role to play helping learners integrate learning and work.”
However, highly relevant learning is often not captured in the workplace, despite the fact that there are severe labour and skills shortages. Two of Otago Polytechnic’s innovative services remedy this by using digital tools for learners to personalise learning and capture evidence of an individual’s knowledge and skills.
Edubits (also known as digital micro-credentials) allow learners to show what they know by submitting examples of their skills to be assessed and recognised. Each assessment is small enough to be manageable for busy people, but big enough to be meaningful to employers and give them a better picture of an individual’s potential to add to an organisation’s productivity.
CAPABLE NZ assesses and values the prior learning of individuals who want to become qualified, and support the workplaces that employ them. The service measures a person’s existing capability, gained through years of work and life experience, against an actual qualification and give academic credit for what they already know.
Access to technology and digital skills have become increasingly essential for people to fully participate in society and the economy. Digital exclusion is a new measure of poverty. The poor and low skilled are being left behind in the digital world. 100,000 students in New Zealand do not have access to internet from their home.
Irihāpeti Mahuika, Director of Learning at Haeata Community Campus shared Haeata’s experience with ConnectED, the Greater Christchurch Schools’ Network Trust programme of Equitable Digital Access for learners and their community. Launched in 2018, in partnership with Chorus, N4L and MoE, Project ConnectED connects students and whānau to their education from home and has had a positive effect on the whole school community.
Internet access is one key indicator of digital inclusion, but as well as access people must also have the motivation, skills, and confidence to go online. It is important for learners to be digitally savvy and creative in an online world. There needs to be a bigger shift from digital consumption to creative production. The focus on access is now shifting to building and assessing digital capability.
Bridging digital divides and digital inclusion is also a challenge in respect of some teachers, education leaders and policy makers. An increasing number of schools are turning their classrooms into BYOD environments, with financial demands on parents to buy prescribed devices. University of Auckland researcher Jiansheng Cui says we need to be aware of whether teachers are fully prepared and well supported to make the most of this.
With the ongoing shift from paper to digital and from traditional classrooms and lecture halls to more flexible learning environments with big and small group activities and individual learning spaces, blended learning approaches are improving learner engagement and learning outcomes. The experience of learning itself as being profoundly changed by immersive technology.
The challenge is to balance access via connected digital devices with the mediating power of human cognition and imagination.
The promise of lifelong personalised learning pathways is increasingly being turned into practice with learners becoming more autonomous and powerful in shaping their own learning and career destinies, in partnership with responsive educators.
Nicola Ngarewa, Principal of Spotswood College spoke at ELF19 on DISRUPT-ED: Embracing the future. She shared the transformative journey from a traditional learning context to a future-focused educational model, drawing on her experience of leading this shift in two schools of different contexts – an underperforming decile 1 area school, and a high performing decile 5 traditional high school.
Mike Hollings, Chief Executive of Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu shared experiences from Te Kura’s transformative shift online in using digital technology to enhance learning in terms of access, engagement and learner agency.
Te Kura’s award-winning online learning environment “My Te Kura” provides engaging, accessible personalised learning opportunities, adapting the international Big Picture learning approach to each learner’s context. Students engage in real life learning opportunities, with their passions and interests at the centre and their whānau and community connected to their learning.
Learners develop relevant skills and knowledge with learning that extends well beyond the traditional concept of the classroom. The music video ‘Echoes of the Sun’, was created through online collaboration in My Te Kura between more than 50 students.
Cheryl Adams, CEO, Animation Research and Jimmy McLauchlan, Business Development, Methodist Mission Southern demonstrated their joint Prison Virtual Reality Learning Project. 65% of people in New Zealand prisons lack NCEA Level 1 literacy and numeracy skills, severely limiting their educational and employment opportunities on release and increasing their risk of re-offending on release.
With support from University of Otago Information Science Department and Ngāti Kahungunu, the two organisations, are working alongside prison-based learners at Otago Corrections Facility to co-design, develop and evaluate virtual reality learning tools – with the aim of significantly improving engagement, completion and achievement rates for learners in prison literacy and numeracy programmes.
Jessica Tulp, Business Associate, Soul Machines spoke on Humanising Technology via the world’s first Digital Brain™. She demonstrated how Soul Machines’ breakthroughs in Experiential Learning add Human intelligence to AI, taking interactions beyond algorithms and enabling “digital humans” to “accumulate experiences, learn, and respond emotionally”.
Paul Stevens, GM, Open Knowledge Group at Catalyst surveyed Education and Open Source IT Innovation. Kiwis have a unique perspective and are famous for their ingenuity and innovation. As a young country we’re not constrained by the same boundaries as others.
NZ-headquartered Catalyst’s solutions reflect this. The Open Source organisation has implemented some of the world’s largest Learning Management Systems using open source technologies to outsmart larger international competitors. Paul also had some lessons for educators in how to avoid digital lock-in to proprietary platforms and ensure delivery flexibility.
Fraser Liggett, Economic Development Programme Manager at Enterprise Dunedin, DCC spoke on education-business links and the fostering of innovation. He also updated participants on Dunedin’s evolving Centre of Digital Excellence. The business case for CODE is being led by Enterprise Dunedin. “Once developed the Centre of Digital Excellence will build on the city’s entrepreneurial and digital strengths, particularly in game development and associated sectors, including education and training,” said Mr Liggett.
The CODE initiative is one of the projects tagged for funding through the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund. A robust application is being developed before plans to invest $10 million over 10 years to enhance Dunedin’s thriving gaming industry can be confirmed.
Prof Tim Bell, Department Computer Science and Software Engineering, University of Canterbury emphasised that the New Digital Technologies Curriculum sounds like it would be mainly about devices, but in fact it is more about people because devices aren’t an end in themselves, but a means for helping people to achieve their goals. He clarified ideas and terminology key to digital systems and reflected on how to help teachers get up to speed with the changed curriculum.
Tim is involved in the Kia Takatū Ā-Matihiko Digital Readiness Programme which the MoE has put in place to support the implementation of Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko (DT & HM) learning.
Andy Kilsby, Director Employability, Otago Polytechnic ran a workshop on EduBits – a new way for learners to show what they know. EduBits is a micro-credentialing service which Otago Polytechnic provides to partner educational delivery beyond the classroom, making learning accessible and visible to industry and learners. This can dovetail into the Polytechnic’s CAPABLE NZ assessment service.
All technologies have downsides as well as upsides. The new technologies of today grow faster and affect more people more quickly. This leads to big challenges as well as big opportunities.
The business models which support a largely free and open connected world, where people can use technology to empower themselves and have their voices heard, can also be used by the unscrupulous for nefarious purposes via digital addiction and improper sharing of personal data with third parties for political or commercial purposes, as in the Cambridge Analytical Scandal.
At the personal level the deleterious effects of technology binging are exacerbated in still developing young brains. There has never been a greater need to invest in digital capability and protection. All learning communities need to develop strategies to support their students’ development of digital skills, citizenship, online safety and wellbeing.
Dr Mary Redmayne, Independent Researcher at Victoria and Monash Universities, addressed The Dangers of Screen Overuse and outlined the emerging effects on child development in terms of physical and mental health. Extensive screen time can lead to behavioural problems, anxiety and depression. Without conscious steps to be in control of one’s use of screens, the journey to screen-dependence can follow.
Netsafe education advisors Anjie Webster and Pauline Spence picked up on topical issues of Online Safety and Wellbeing in a presentation and a workshop. There is a need for all learning communities to develop and update strategies to support student development of digital citizenship, online safety and wellbeing.
Netsafe provides resources and funds and runs workshops with interested schools and groups, either after social media incidents which may have occasioned adverse publicity or as proactive learning sessions linked to challenges presented by digital technology. The focus is on raising awareness of challenging digital issues and providing resources for developing appropriate school and home strategies.
Donald Matheson, Media and Communications at the University of Canterbury spoke on Fake News and Flaky Views. Educating young people to stay safe and not do harm is important, but just as important is educating them about how to participate and share constructively online, listen across differences, think critically and access credible sources of information.
Social media platforms bring huge benefits such as a more open and inclusive society and opportunities for collective action. But they also diffuse responsibility for the public good and remove filters.
The March Christchurch terrorist attack has prompted more urgent debate about regulating social media sites and educating users to tackle online prejudice by handling information critically.
Amara’s Law states that we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.
The hype cycle encapsulated in Amara’s law depicts the maturity of emerging technologies through five phases: 1. A technology trigger with early interest in a potential technology breakthrough; 2. The peak of inflated expectations through early success stories; 3. The trough of disillusionment as implementations failed to deliver; 4. The slope of enlightenment as understanding of how the technology can benefit becomes more widespread; 5. The plateau of productivity when mainstream adoption starts to take off, with the technologies relevance clearly paying off.
Educators need to be adaptive and adopt proven edtech from the ‘plateau of productivity’ to help grow brains and open minds in order to develop in their learners the mix of knowledge and technical and soft skills necessary for an innovative economy in an open society.
A balanced learning diet is the key, incorporating an appropriate mix of hi-tech, low-tech and no-tech learning resources and activities aimed at inculcating self-knowledge, deepening scientific knowledge, sharpening digital skills and developing soft skills such as critical thinking, communication, empathy, collaboration and decision-making.
Natural Intelligence > Artificial Intelligence
By analogy some products of the Age of Artificial Intelligence can help us better understand and appreciate Natural Intelligence: the power of the Spine-Top Computer and the importance of human development in the first 1,000 days.
Machine learning has advanced in quantum leaps to resemble aspects of human neural activity. For highly focused tasks like playing chess AI is now demonstrably better than humans. Two decades after IBM Deep Blu’s chess victory over Gary Kasparov in 1997, Google’s AlphaZero programme comprehensively defeated the then world computer champion the Stockfish 8 programme by winning 28 games and tying 72.
The latter had access to collated human chess experience as well as computer experience. The new digital champ was not taught any chess openings or strategies by humans. Instead it used the latest machine learning principles to teach itself chess by playing against itself.
From total ignorance to creative mastery this took the programme 4 hours, without the help of any human guide.
But in a far wider range of human tasks the human brain is still impossible to match, especially in synthesising sensory and mental information to make reality intelligible and being creative, asking questions and making predictions. But it must be constantly challenged and kept active throughout life.
As Michael Hewitt-Gleeson warns “If you don’t do your own thinking Artificial Intelligence will do it for you. But, there is no guarantee that AI will think in your own interest at all.”
Lyall Lukey convened Education Leaders Forum 2019 Digital Divides, Dividends & Dangers Dunedin 17/18 July, 2019.